[From Wood's Account of IoM, 1811]
On the Rights and Liberty of the Person
THE Isle of Man is rendered extremely interesting by being a little dependency on Great Britain, retaining its own laws and customs; the more so, now England, Scotland, and Ireland are blended into one government; still preserving its freedom from all internal taxation, while the surrounding nations are almost overwhelmcd. Lord Chief-justice Coke observes, that, although this island is no parcel of the, realm of England, yet it is part of the dominions of the King, and therefore allegiance is reserved in public oaths, and that its laws are such as are scarce to be found anywhere else.
The isle is divided into two districts, each having a Deemster or chief-,justice; into six sheadings or counties, with their respective coroners or sheriffs; and into seventeen parishes.
The subjects under consideration I shall endeavour to arrange as succinctly as possible in the following order; the rights and liberty of thy person; property in general; private wrongs and their redress; public wrongs and their punishment.
The Isle of Man cannot boast of any Magna Charta, any Bill of Rights, any Habeas-Corpus act, or any written promise of the sovereign relative to the liberty of the subject.
The infringement of liberty gives rise to laws respecting it. When the government of a country continues long, with little variation, and is not intolerably bad, the people are usually content. The arbitrary acts of John and his predecessors, and the people's wish for their old Saxon government, gave rise to the rebellion of the Barons, the English Magna Charta.
We hear of few vexatious arrests made by the Manks government, and of these few is that of Bishop Wilson. The Lord's officer might imprison any one for a debt due to the Lord; but the causes sufficient for arresting a person were not defined in any act previously to the year 1736, when the Governor or any of the officers was prohibited from arresting a man, except for flagrant breaches of the peace, open riots or disturbances, of other notorious misdemeanours, unless evidence on oath was given, relating the complaint or a sufficient cause of suspicion,
It is amusing and instructive to observe the arbitrary and most tyrannical laws made against the lower orders of the people, and to mark their consequences. All persons, having no regular occupation, or not being in a farm, were liable to be taken for servants, and have only such wages as the law allowed. A ploughman was entitled to 13s. 4d. a year, besides meat and drink; a driver to 10s. and a horseman to 8s.: a mason, carpenter, or shipwright, to 4d. a day, and other workmen in proportion. Employers giving more were liable to forfeit to the Lord a sum equal to the whole wages.(1) The Lord and his officers had the first choice of servants, and might, at the beginning of a half year, even take them away from any of the inhabitants, except the twenty-four Keys.
Children not brought up, or put apprentice, to any trade, were liable to be ordered into service, unless the parent was old or decrepid, and required assistance. In this case, one child might be kept at home, but the parents were obliged to give public notice of their intention in order that no "deemster, moare, coroner, farmer might expect such choice child, and disappointed." (2)
In 1691, the laws were rendered still more severe, and servants refusing to work on legal terms were to be imprisoned till they consented. In order to encourage foreign artificers the laws were made relative to Manks work-people only.
The children of the poorer class being thus by various unjust laws, reduced to a situation much worse than that of their neighbours, were induced by their own choice, and that of their parents, to leave the island: and so frequent was their emigration, that the legislature judged necessary to interfere once more respecting them. Thus, does it often happen, that one unjust proceeding necessarily brings on another. We learn, by the act of Tinwald, that all industrious people and the good servants had gone abroad for the sake of higher wages, and that none were left but the drunken, the idle and the dissolute, who were rather a clog up the community than any advantage to it. "By the practice of such emigration was expected inevitably to ensue the utter decay, not only of husbandry and tillage, but also of all kind of trade, being thus drained of its useful strength and substance." (3) It was therefore enacted, that all natives, who had ever done any work for money, clothes, food, or other consideration, should not be permitted to leave the island till they had attained the age of twenty-five years; and had either been seven years in service, or had served an apprenticeship of five years; the Governor, nevertheless, being authorised to grant his licence or pass to any one, on a special cause, by him deemed sufficient.
This was the last of the vain attempts of Government to overturn the natural course of things; for the purpose of the next act upon the subject, passed in the year 1777, was to repeal all former laws respecting servants and their wages, at length found worse than useless, and at that time nearly obsolete. The same act sets aside several old laws and feudal customs.
A house-servant is supposed to be hired for half a year, when no special agreement is made between the employer and the employed. The contract is mutual; either party may be punished for breaking it; the master by the payment of damages, the servant by imprisonment.
Between an apprentice and his master the contract is also mutual.
The laws were nearly silent respecting marriages till the year 1757. Persons of any age might intermarry, without either licence or the publication of banns. Even the prohibited degree of affinity was never settled by an act of Tinwald; and to the present time no other legal disabilities exist. The marriage ceremony is according to the Protestant church, and several of the regulations observed in England were, at this time, adopted here. No person can be married till he has received the sacrament, except by special leave of the ordinary;(4) nor any one, except a widow or widower, under twentyone years of age, without the consent of their father or guardian, or in default of these, of the mother, except by the publication of banns for three successive Sundays, which, if not objected to, implies their consent. If the father is dead, and the minor is unable to procure this consent of his guardian or mother to the proposed marriage, he may petition the Governor for leave: and if the Governor deems the objection of the guardian or mother insufficient, he may grant leave accordingly.
Aliens may not marry till they have resided three months on the island.
When banns have not been published, a licence from the Bishop or his deputy is always necessary: the solemnisation must be by a minister; and at the parish church of one of the parties, unless the Bishop grant a special licence, under his own hand and seal, to marry elsewhere. The cost of a licence is a British crown; of a special licence forty shillings. These sums being moderate, banns are not very frequent. A residence of three days renders the party a parishioner.
On the subject of divorces we find nothing in the statutes.
Man and wife, baron and feme, are not so completely united into one person by the Marks, as by the English law. All property, except landed estates of inheritance, they possess in common, with this difference, that the husband may bequeath his share of the property to whom he will; the wife, if she makes a will at all, may leave the property only to her children of the present husband. If she has none, she cannot make a will. On the death of the husband, the widow enters upon her share of the property on the death of the wife, not leaving made a will, the husband enters upon the whole. Previously to 1777, the testament of the wife was not restricted to her husband and children; but she might leave her moiety of property to whomever she pleased, which practice, as the act asserts, frequently occasioned the utter ruin the widower. A difference formerly prevailed between the southern and northern districts, respecting the wife's or widow's right; but it does not exist at present. In cases of treason or felony, only the criminal's share becomes forfeited.
A father is obliged to maintain his children till they attain the age of fourteen years. At this period terminates all legal obligation between them. A child at this age may demand any legacy and depart; but, if he is entitled to an inheritance from the mother, and, nevertheless remains at home, the father is entitled to the interest or use of the money as a compensation for his maintenance. Children, entering upon their property of whatever sort it in are not permitted to dispose of any part of it till they are twenty-one years old, except in eases of absolute necessity, approved of by the Governor. A child is not considered to be disinherited, unless the legacy of sixpence be left to him;(5)
I have been speaking of legitimate children only: others cannot inherit; but the later marriage of the father and mothers within three years of the birth of a natural child, will render that child legitimate.
A father may appoint a guardian. If he neglects to do so, and leaves a widow and one child, the father's kindred have the custody of the child till it is fourteen years old. If there are two children left, the mother takes care of the eldest, and may, by will, appoint a guardian the second child is to be taken care of as an only one would be. A guardian must not, except in cases of extremity, let the lands of a minor for a longer term than his minority.(6)
There are no bodies corporate in the Isle of Man, except those which are necessarily so in. virtue of the office, and are sole corporations: as, the bishops, parsons, vicars, churchwardens, and some others They are rendered so by holding, in perpetuity, a trust inseparable from the office.
Very few differences between natives and aliens exist. One we mentioned in the last chapter; the others will be spoken of as occasion offers. Formerly there was a great prejudice against the Scotch, and all of that nation were obliged to leave the island, by the first vessel that sailed, on the forfeiture of goods and liberty. A foreigner might not, without special leave, proceed further into the country than the nearest parish church.
1 Statute, 1609.
2 Statute, 1662..
3 Statute, 1691.
4 Statute 1703
5 Statute-book, Anno 1525, 1677, 1704,
6 Statute-book, Anno 1686.